With an apology to the driver for abandoning him, I plugged my earphones into my iPod and chose a lecture by Alan Watts. He calls himself an “entertainer”, a sort of stand-up philosopher like in the olden Greek days, who went from village to village to challenge the wisest and so sharpened their own thinking.
Watts has a fascinationation (“had” is the better way of saying it because the man passed away decades ago, but then “had” sounds strange when you’re listening to his voice. Now…) with everything Oriental: Taoism; Zen; Hinduism; Buddhism.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
And Watts has a love for the mystical outlook on life. Which I happen to share, as a layman.
To my astonishment, Mr. Watts today spoke about a topic that has been raised so often, in such tiring and boring ways, so devoid of sincerity and therefore empty of meaning these days: ”feelings”.
Yep. Please do swallow. Please do breathe.
The moment he uttered the word, I awoke from the mild trance-like state I get in when listening to audiobooks.
You have to understand, that I was travelling in a car on a bumpy dirt road. We passed burnt-out tanks, thatched huts, naked children.
A place where “life” simply ain’t what it is in my culture – be it in Cape Town, California or Castricum. In the environment through which I drove, life seems to evolve around basic survival, while swimming naked in the Nile - regardless of how many people watch you wash yourself.
I felt shame. As if I’d just introduced a new virus into a pristine environment, simply by privately listening to a man talking on my iPod. Yet – I have been roaming these parts of the world long enough to know that “feelings” lay very much on and under the surface here. No one is a stranger to the emotions of anger, fear, joy, lust, exhiliration, depression or fatalism.
The thing is, in our dage and age, many a feeling has become some strange sort of exhibitionism. Dramatic lives shown to us in all gory details, via Reality-TV and phone-in radioshows. Many whine, vent and have neared a point of virtual verbal diarrhoea. No filter between the venom of one’s darkest corners and the world out there.
At the same time, “feelings” have become taboo for those of sane mind. For the “rational” among us. Those who claim to be ion charge of their own existence. They see “feelings” as stuff for the plebs, the weak.
Where things have become confused today, is that there seems to be a lack of distinction. Expressing a feeling and exploring a feeling are two unrelated actions. The first one doesn’t solve anything – it takes the pressure of the pressure cooker, but doesn’t alter the content. The latter one transforms what lies at the core of feelings, and so allows for it to evaporate.
What are called “feelings” today is very often only the foam on top of a restless ocean. Fluff.
I love diving into anything that has to do with “feelings” – the deeper they come from, the more fascinating I find them. When they reside in nooks and crannies of the soul, I’d like to hear all about what they’ve got to say. And it is for this reason I particularly liked Alan Watts’ talk of the day.
Bear with me, while I quote an outstanding piece of logic from his collection of lectures called “You’re it”. Bolds are mine.
But you see: the idea that there are no wrong feelings is an immensely threatening one to people who are afraid to feel. This is one of the peculiar problems of our culture: we are terrified of our feelings. We think that if we give them any scope and if we don’t immediately beat them down, they will lead us down into all kinds of chaotic and destructive actions.
But if, for a change, we would allow our feelings and look upon their comings and goings as something as beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather, the going of night and day and the four seasons, we would be at peace with ourselves.
What is so problematic for Western man is not so much his struggles with other people and their needs and problems as his struggle with his own feelings. With what he will allow himself to feel and what he won’t allow himself to feel. He is ashamed to feel really profoundly sad, so much so that he could cry. It is not manly to cry.
He is afraid to loathe somebody, because you’re not supposed to hate people. He is ashamed to be so overcome with the beauty of something, that he goes out of his mind over this beauty. Because all that kind of thing is ‘not being in control, old boy‘; not having your hand on the wheel.
I think this is the most releasing thing that anybody can possible understand. That you’re inner feeling is never wrong. What you feel is never wrong – it may not be a right guide as to what you should do, but it is right that you should have the feeling of hating, or of being sad, or of being terrified. When a person comes to himself he comes to be one with his own feeling, and that is the only way to be in a position of controlling it.“
As I listen to Alan Watts speaking, I look through the windows of my 4×4, gallivanting a true African setting. Empty space, it seems, until the next settlement of thatched huts.
And I ponder this thing of “the truth of inner feelings, while not acting upon them.” It is a distinction between what I call “I have feelings” and “I am my feelings”.
There’s great liberation whenever I realise that whatever bio-chemical or hormonal soup is raging through my veins because of a thought or a feeling is a transient one.
It’ll make space for other matters, thoughts, moods and feelings.
Yet, at the heart of ‘it’ lies a gem, showing me something of myself I need not fear.
But that realisation – that awareness – doesn’t come easy, Mr. Watts.
Not easy at all…
Sometimes we have to let life and all it entails push us to the edge of the cliff before we realise it’s time to turn around, and really listen to our feelings.
Listen to what bubbles up inside.
And then fall backwards into the abyss, knowing that nothing can ever destroy us.